TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night said he reluctantly accepted the resignation of his opponent, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, after winning the majority support of 71 TDs in a motion of confidence in his leadership.
The Taoiseach insisted he was determined going into the imminent election campaign, in which Fianna Fail faces a major battle to retain seats.
"We have been fighting for this country, fighting for its people, its very survival, for its sustainability against one of the greatest economic and financial crises we have seen in over 80 years," Mr Cowen said.
"We also want to set out for the public the future for our country and we believe we can if we implement the four-year plan we have in place.
"It is important there is a plan in place and it will revive our fortunes over time and will be the means (by which) we can provide improvements in standards of living again and increased job opportunities."
With the issue of his leadership now closed going into the March election, Mr Cowen said everyone needed to unite behind last night's decision and to go out and defend the honour of the party.
Fianna Fail election candidates must help voters understand the reasons for recent economic and banking decisions that have resulted in the party languishing at support levels of just 14pc.
"Had we not taken the decisions, the position of our country would be even more perilous," Mr Cowen said.
The Taoiseach said Mr Martin had felt honour-bound to resign after he publicly challenged his leadership.
The resignation, he said, had been accepted reluctantly.
"But I understand he is very much of the view that this needs to be done to send a confirmation that there are consequences to the decision of the stand he took," Mr Cowen added.
A triumphant Mr Cowen insisted that he and Mr Martin would remain "very good friends".
The Taoiseach signalled that he would not be seeking the resignation of other junior ministers who had publicly opposed his leadership.